By Kevin Wilson
ALBUQUERQUE — Tested, but never bested.
That’s how the Portales Lady Rams ended the Class 3A tournament this year, holding on Saturday for a 14-25, 25-18, 25-19, 21-25, 16-14 victory over third-seeded Pojoaque for the school’s sixth Class 3A volleyball title and fourth in six seasons.
Megan Kabrick had a team-high 18 kills and Ashleah Richards had 21 assists for Portales (22-3), which ended the season on a 13-match winning streak and was a perfect 13-0 in Class 3A.
But thanks to Pojoaque (18-7), Saturday’s title match was a struggle for the Lady Rams as opposed to a coronation. The 1-hour, 55-minute match featured 108 kills, 93 assists and 202 total points— with 55 kills for Portales, 51 assists for Pojoaque and 101 points for each squad.
Portales’ 100th and 101st points were the biggest differences, though, as they came in a 14-14 tie in the fifth game. After failing on its first chance at match point at 14-13, the Lady Rams got another shot when senior Morgan Hill’s 15th kill landed between a pair of Elkette defenders.
“We kept hitting the ball at them,” Portales coach Ruth Chavez said. “No matter what happened, I didn’t want them to get timid. As long as you keep pounding the ball you’ve got a chance.
The second chance paid off, as a Pojoaque kill attempt died in the net moments later to set off an emotional outburst from a Portales club that bent but never broke.
“We knew we had it all the way,” senior defensive specialist Rebekah Gonzales said through a stream of tears. “We just had to show it on the court.
“I just knew all the way we could do it. We’ve worked for this all year long.”
Portales rarely played like a team that struggled in the regular season, with only three losses. The teams that beat Portales were El Paso Bel Air, Class 4A semifinalist Roswell and Class 1A champion Tatum, which closed out a 27-0 season with a five-set win against Jal.
“It makes all the difference when you play a tough schedule. I’ve usually come into these tournaments with a horrible record, but that’s because we’ve played good people.”
The schedule, Gonzales said, was a buildup to the final three games of the season.
“Every game we came out and said this is going to help us take the state championship.”
They needed the extra training for Pojoaque, which boasted no player over 5-foot-9 but got double-digit kills from Meagan Valdez (match-high 21 kills) and Ashley Herrera (17 kills) and eight from Jessica Montoya.
“They can get up (and hit),” Portales libero Ella Erf said. “They played smart.
“We knew state was going to be a challenge. We just all stuck together and believed in each other.”
Portales controlled the middle of the match, and held back several Pojoaque rallies.
“Even through the big lulls in those two games, we played hard,” Pojoaque coach Brian Ainsworth said. “We didn’t doubt our ability.”
The Elkettes proved Ainsworth right in the fourth game, as they rallied from a 14-10 deficit and forced the fifth game.
Now, Portales has holes to fill — Gonzales, Richards, Hill and Kabrick all graduate in May — and Pojoaque looks to be the 2006 favorite in 3A with 11 returners.
“I’ve been coaching for 15 years,” Ainsworth said. “The character of this ballclub, the athleticism of this ballclub … it’s the best team I’ve ever had. They play to have fun, they play to entertain.”